As the academic school year begins, and the COVID pandemic continues with new variants, there is much discussion about “learning loss,” typically referencing school-based achievement. Who is catching up? Who is left behind? This long-standing preoccupation with timely learning is a legacy. Largely measured through standardized tests that have been thoroughly researched and proven to be based. eugenics, pseudoscience created to perpetuate racism, and that it continues to reinstate white supremacyReport cards and test scores are distractions from learning. A learning loss via those assessments is not a national crisis because schooling, since its formation in this settler nation, is one of the nation’s most efficient delivery systemsFor stratification in society.
Nevertheless, there have been many learning opportunities during an ongoing pandemic. These losses are not absolute, but they can be very significant until they are addressed.
What lessons have we lost?
During the pandemic, timely political education was neglected. Although many have been quick to quote the closing paragraph of Arundhati Roy’s April 2020 essay on the pandemic, few have referenced the essay’s larger point and precise focus on the rise of totalitarianism. Roy explained how Modi, the Prime Minister of India, hosted Trump in the weeks before the pandemic. He also increased anti-Muslim violence in several Indian districts in preparation for Trump’s visit. Modi declared a nation of over 1.3 billion people on March 24, 2020 four hours’ noticeThe curfew was enforced by police after a nationwide lockdown. As in the U.S.A, the most vulnerable were those who had been made more vulnerable by racial capital.
This ongoing pandemic has led to global totalitarianism creating vulnerabilities for millions. For example, the loneliness, isolation, and powerlessness that can be attributed to this pandemic have been the perfect conditions for totalitarianism in China and India. Hannah ArendtThis was in 1973. In New Orleans, Black people account for 53 percent of the city’s population, where wealth and poverty are neighbors. Black people were still living in poverty one year after the pandemic. 75 percent of the city’s total death toll. More than 60% of the workforce in Peru and El Salvador is informal laborers. These include street food vendors and women who make small trinkets for tourists. These already poor people, who were unable to work, had to return to their villages and make trinkets for tourists, just like in India. suffered the most sickness and death from the virus.
Although neither totalitarianism or empire are new, not critically analysing and learning from these powerful structures of power and the impact they have on marginalized lives is a significant learning opportunity.
We Lost a Chance to Learn That Schools Don’t Equal Learning
Our society has lost the opportunity to clarify learning from schooling. Being a good student doesn’t mean that learning is happening. It often means obedience is occurring. We have lost the ability to understand how freedom sounds as a child. As Carla Shalaby describes in her research, the “troublemakers” in school, the ones who fidget (which can and often is a form of self-soothing), who speak when they are supposed to be quiet and those who simply refuse — these children are crying for freedom. We’ve been conditioned to hear “disobedience.”
Perhaps the closing of schools could have shown us that some students found relief in not being overwhelmed with many stimuli. Education could have learned from the closing of schools that a dis/ability can always be in dynamic with people, spaces, and objects. The rise in Black homeschooling during the pandemic could have taught us that given an escape from the anti-Black racism in schooling, many Black families figured out ways to not return to that violent “normal.” Two years into the pandemic and counting, the number of Black homeschooling families has increased five-fold. The rise of Black homeschooling is a departure in the history, current funding and legal support of homeschooling. Christian-based white organizationsexploitation corporations such as Walmart.
We lost a chance to tell the truth about the uprisings
People all over the globe witnessed and/or took part in global uprisings to protest the state-sanctioned executions of Black people in the summer 2020. They marched on the streets as part of an intergenerational struggle for freedom. Dozens upon dozens of colleges and universities were founded. initiativesAvailable to the public but largely toothless mission statementsIn response to the murders of George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. These responses weren’t focused on the state-sanctioned deaths of Black people. They were largely self-interested responses to the global uprisings of summer 2020, in order to prevent more uprisings. Unintentionally formal education taught (and people learnt) about the moves of the wealthiest universities and the limits of their actions.
When university leaders wrote emails in the summer of 2020 to their communities about the center/initiative/new chief diversity officer for equity in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, they likely were also working on announcements providing details about campuses reopening for the academic year. University staff didn’t need these emails because they were already back at work, PPE gear or not, or they had been laid off. Hourly workers on campus who cleaned buildings, provided food service or were administrative assistants, a large number of them working poor people of colour, lost their jobs after campuses closed in Spring 2020. The same people were the essential workersIn order to allow campuses to reopen before the return of salaried, majority-white administrators and faculty, they had to take on infection.
The Loss that Defies Any Metric: Grief
Perhaps the most important thing about this society is its mass displacement of grief. It also teaches how to grieve. This nation is ruled more by racial capitalism than any political party. Racial capitalism doesn’t care about humanizing deeply human experiences such as births, deaths, and grieving. The U.S. is famous for having the cruelest policiesfor bereavement leaves. The Fair Labor Standards Act (Fair Labor Standards Act) is shockingly unfair. requiring exactly zero paid time off for bereavement. In May 2022, the nation was officially acknowledged as having lost 1,000,000 lives to COVID. Due to the number of undocumented, incarcerated Americans who make up the U.S. population, an accurate accounting of life and death is not possible. Because this carceral society doesn’t treat life with care here, the number of lives counted is literally smaller.
We Can Choose Collective Care over Racial Capitalism
The United States has never found grieving useful. Property owners have built their wealth through subjugation as a nation from the confiscation of land and stolen labor. In racial capitalism, where there can never been too much profit, grieving simply means that time is not being used, and time is not making money for the company. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that masking and social distancing were the best ways to combat the pandemic. The CDC announced that COVID was here to stay in August 2022. With 500 COVID-related deaths per day from the BA.5 variant and schools reopening almost exclusively without hybrid options, masking is recommended for five days, but not required, while an individual is infected.
Federal policies warn the public to stop taking precautions and to avoid masking, which has fallen despite new versions. People rejoiced in removing their K-95 masks and flooded airports with vacation bookings. While the pandemic has caused severe social isolation and painful restrictions, it pales in comparison with the immense death and grief that is being masked. flight attendants singingPassenger to take off their masks. As Ashon Crawley wrote, “there is so much un-dealt with grief,” referencing the laughter of a White House official taking the place of acknowledging the rising death toll due to AIDS in the early 1980s.
The COVID pandemic has seen an increase in deaths and untreated grief. Despite homophobia and ignorance fuelling the ignoring of grief and mocking death in 1980s, the refusal by the government to acknowledge the growing number of COVID-linked deaths is still a distinct issue. The pandemic’s deaths have been un-dealt with via confusing and often contradictory policies, but most profoundly by prioritizing saving the economy rather than lives.
People are also deprived of the opportunity to learn how to deal with grief and how it might change them. If we are given the chance to grieve deeply and to also deal with inequitable, mass-level loss of lives, it is possible to grow our collective political education and humaneness. Millions of people have lost the chance to grieve thousands and thousands of lives. Although the basic principles of physics tell us that time is not linear, it is important to consider what can fester if immediate grief is not quelled. When the most “advanced” nation in the world created little to no structure to support grieving, including collective grief, it underscored its interest in returning to an already violent “normal” and quickly forgetting lost lives.
Learning is not lost
It is not a loss, it is an absence. It is not a loss of school days. These losses are very real. This society will continue to be shaped by the loss of more than 1 million people. Roy concluded her essay by noting that no society is immune to a pandemic. This is certainly true for millions of people who have experienced the willful displacement and grief.
How can a society reduce the pressure to create, punish and keep it moving? Ruth Wilson Gilmore, social geographer and abolitionist states it plainlyLife is precious where it is precious. Roy and Gilmore’s work and writings teach that being complacent with mass death and grief is not an option if our interest is freedom. Societies have the ability to think anew, to use this still active opportunity for freedom from the burden of individualism and choose interrelated well being.
There are many photos of young people dressed up for their first day back to school on social media. Many stores are filled with mostly maskless shoppers looking for back-to-school gear. The BA.5 version is growing rapidly, and science writer Ed Yong states, the nation’s leaders have normalized becoming infected, with masking mandates all but a thing of the past.
But, there is still a chance to fix this loss, this loss, this loss, of humanity, this collective demand for a health infrastructure that offends centuries-long health inequalities. There is always learning available.